By Mary Ayad (PolSci’94)
It has been said a journey of a thousand footsteps begins with one step. Starting out from CU-Boulder with a bachelor’s in political science, I have found myself halfway around the world after two master’s degrees, a brief United Nations mission and a nearly completed PhD in international commercial arbitration law in Australia. All this after considerable overseas sojourns to all of the world’s continents except Antarctica.
My intercontinental travel began in Sweden through CU study abroad in Uppsala in the academic year 1997-1998. This first study abroad trip led to four more in Egypt, Malta, the United Kingdom and Australia, also including a European study tour and a collection of overseas conferences.
At the time, Sweden represented to me a hitherto unchartered frontier: long-term international travel in an entirely new culture. Fourteen years later, travel has become a way of life. The rigors and challenges of post-graduate studies in a foreign culture sharpened my intellect and refined my analytical skills. Through my many discussions and friendships I came to a better understanding of global affairs. The best part of my studies in Sweden was traveling to Aland Island for a human rights law conference. It was here that the seeds for my future career were planted.
Growing up with an amazing father who was a CU professor of anthropology, Boulos Ayad, broadened my horizons. I listened to slide shows of his colleagues showing all the places in the world they had been – this broadened my view.
After completing coursework for my first master’s degree in international management (2003) specializing in intercultural relations, I decided that there was no better place for me to do my graduate practicum than in Cairo. I chose the Egyptian capital because my parents were born there, I speak the language (Arabic) fluently, have some familiarity with the culture and have relatives and family friends there.
Thinking I would only stay for six months, I stayed for three-and-a-half years, plus another six months. One of the best aspects of my trip to Egypt was that one of my uncles, Sam, is a very talented lawyer and in the course of our conversations he encouraged me to study law. Considering I was initially a pre-law-political science graduate but applied my degree to train for a career as a diplomat, I came to the conclusion that I much prefer law.
My long-term stay in Egypt and my cultural immersion (exponentially enriched by my background) gave me tremendous insights into the legal culture, which are now entirely relevant in my current PhD research. While in Cairo, I worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Office of Refugee Resettlement. I accessed cases on the basis of criteria (legal and policy) for resettlement. Hearing firsthand accounts of war further solidified my commitment to human rights law and to the peaceful resolution of disputes. I then applied for a course in international human rights law in Malta for seven months of coursework. I was so inspired by this course that I began to consider going even further into legal studies. My second semester component of the Malta law course was in Oxford and it was there that I decided that I would do a PhD in international business law, specializing in international arbitration, a form of alternative dispute resolution.
Oxford is known as the city of dreaming spires for a reason. The air is imbued with inspiration. One day while walking on the high street I went into Waterstone’s Bookstore and found my way to the second floor where the law books were. I took an introduction to business law textbook off the shelf and read a few cases of early oil concession arbitrations. It was then that I decided that would be the topic of my PhD dissertation.
I have been in Australia now for a little over three years. In the course of doing my PhD I’ve had some great experiences. In June I traveled to Madrid to receive an award for a paper regarding legislating trust between European investors and Arab states in a competition sponsored by the International Mercantile Court of Spain and several other organizations. I presented my paper before 40 Spanish King’s Counsel and the secretary general of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
One of the best experiences I have had in Australia has been mentoring and coaching law students. The Macquarie team has competed against Ivy League and Big Eight Law schools in the U.S. I learned more about the law and about courage and perseverance under pressure from the three students who were on the 2010 and 2011 teams through the course of watching them compete and in our preparations than from much of my reading.
The most amazing thing about this experience was not so much winning over the other teams as it was a chance for me to share my mentoring and coaching skills which I learned first and foremost from my dad who and from my uncle Sam in Egypt. It is experiences like this that create a valuable purpose for advanced legal knowledge, to mentor and nurture the next generation as my father and my Uncle Sam, as well as countless professors have done for me.
Overall, the value of all of my international experience is so priceless it really is beyond tangible expression. I can say that in terms of expertise in my area of international law, it gives me a highly specialized niche of skill and thus a significant edge in terms of insights and legal analysis as a result of the practicality of my experiences.
I have not been learning all of my legal knowledge in an ivory tower but rather through practical experience. I was able to give two radio interviews, an online news interview and write an editorial opinion with an Australian Senior Counsel regarding the constitutionality of the Egyptian revolution, for example, as a result not only of my legal knowledge of Egypt but of having lived there for several years. I attribute my career strengths, expertise, skills and knowledge to a considerable degree to my international travels which include Europe, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.
Mary Boulos Ayad (PolSci’94) is a PhD candidate in international commercial arbitration law and international investment arbitration law at Macquarie University, New South Wales, Australia. She has two master’s, one in human rights law and the other in intercultural relations international management. She’s a member of the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the student affiliate of the chartered institute of arbitrators.